Kento stretched out his arms, a drawn-out yawn escaping his mouth. He checked the time at the corner of his screen. The yawn changed, morphing into a groan. It was late again.
“Why do I keep doing this?” he asked the empty air. He stood up, examining the office around him. His department had this entire floor of the building, but it was empty now, the only source of lights being his monitor and the signs pointing to the emergency exits. Kento pondered for the hundredth time why his boss liked riding him so hard. This was the fifth night in a row that he worked till dark, and he was getting sick of it. He wasn’t self-aware enough to realize he only had himself to blame. His boss never asked him to work late after all.
“Oh well,” he muttered to himself, packing his things. “It’s not like I have a wife waiting for me at home.” He threw his bag over his shoulder and began the trek back home. On the way down the elevator, he noted that the entire building seemed deserted. Stepping out, he waved at Abe, the night-doorman. Abe gave a friendly wave in return.
“Working late again, Mr. Shifutu?” Abe asked as Kento passed.
“Yeah,” Kento replied, walking through the door. “I think the boss is trying to get me to quit.”
“Would be a damn shame if you did,” Abe called out, before closing the door. Kento smiled. Abe was a good guy, and at least always made sure his night ended on a positive note. He had asked him out for drinks once, but unlike Kento, Abe had a family waiting for him at home.
“Ugh, I don’t feel like cooking,” Kento lamented, slowly meandering to the nearest station. He checked his phone. He still had fifteen minutes before the next train arrived. “I should just get some food along the way.” He thought about his options for a meal. He had gotten very familiar with the take-out selection around his home given the number of late nights he had to work. He was still considering his options when he reached the station.
The station was small, matching the town. He worked in the biggest building they had, a measly five stories tall. He lived on the other side of town and took the train to and from work every day.
“Same thing, day in and day out,” he muttered. He almost spat the words. Usually, he was pretty content with his lot in life, but on nights like these, he couldn’t help but wonder if there wasn’t something more to life than just this. There had to be more existence than just work, food, and sleep, right? He wished that something, anything at all, could come across his path, and make his life just a little bit more interesting.
Luckily it seemed like the universe was in a giving mood. The train arrived exactly on schedule, and Kento absentmindedly took a step forward to board, finding himself colliding with…
Aiya picked at the food on her plate listlessly. The man across from her had not stopped talking since they had sat down. He was telling some story about how he and his friends terrorized a younger child in his university days. She mentally cursed her friends for setting her up on this date.
“Cool and cute my ass,” she muttered.
“What was that?” the man across from her asked.
“Oh, nothing!” she said, bolting upright. Her face turned slightly red, being caught in her blunder. She plastered a fake smile on. “Please, continue.”
“Ok, so anyway…” the man began again, and Aiya instantly stopped listening. She already knew this date was a bust. It wasn’t that the guy wasn’t attractive. He was pretty handsome, but he was so full of himself, and a blockhead to boot. Aiya couldn’t wait to drag her friends over the coals for setting her up like this. She took a sip of water and checked the time. They had been at the restaurant for more than an hour now, and she had said less than a dozen words total, including her order.
The night dragged on with her date bragging about himself and his accomplishments, flexing his muscles, and generally making a fool of himself. When it mercifully ended, he offered to walk her to the station.
“Oh, no thank you,” Aiya said, trying to sound polite. “I have something I need to do before I go home.”
“Ok,” the man said, eying her up and down. He placed his hand on the wall behind her, no doubt trying something he saw on TV. Aiya squirmed, unsure how to get out of this.
“Um, I’m going to go now,” she said, slipping out under his arm. She walked down the sidewalk in the opposite direction from the nearest station, trying to avoid looking back at him. She walked a wide circle to get back to the station, in a depressed mood the entire time.
“I came two stops from home just for that,” she muttered, dragging her feet. “Why do I even bother?” She turned a corner, seeing the station. Her mood lifted slightly. She was almost home. The station platform was pretty crowded, mostly young couples who seemed to be on dates. Her mood dropped again, as envy crept up her spine.
“Damn kids,” she cursed, under her breath. Seeing them enjoy their youth made her unreasonably upset. She wasn’t old by any means, having only just turned 23, but having gone to an all-girls school, she had missed out on all her chances to experience a teen romance.
It was made all the worse by her friends who were all in successful relationships and determined to make the same happen for her. They paraded man after man in front of her, but none of them felt right. Maybe she was being too picky. When she was young and refused to eat her food, her mother always told her she would never get a man if she was that picky. She laughed softly. It was almost prophetic.
She was still thinking about this curse her mother had put on her when the train pulled in. She got on, along with all the young couples. Aiya found herself a nice spot at the corner of the train car, leaning against the wall.
“I didn’t get to have dessert,” she whispered to herself. “There’s a nice cafe at the next stop. Maybe I should go get some cake there.”
This idea sounded more than appealing to her, and Aiya’s mind was swept away in a whirlwind of confectionary delights, so much so that she didn’t look where she was going as she disembarked the train, finding herself colliding with…
“I’m so sorry,” Kento said, barely keeping his balance. He’s instinctively grabbed onto the shoulders of the person he crashed into to help them with their balance too. “Are you ok?”
“I’m fine,” Aiya said. “It was my fault, I wasn’t looking where I was going.”
“Well, as long as neither of us got hurt, then there’s no harm, right?” Kento said with a smile.
“Yeah, none at all,” Aiya said, smiling back. Her smile disappeared when she heard the train doors close behind her. It began moving, leaving one of its passengers behind.
“Damn, I was supposed to be on that,” Kento said, trying to make a deadpan joke.
“I’m sorry!” Aiya said. “It’s my fault you missed your train!”
“It’s fine,” Kento said, raising his arms defensively. “I was planning on getting dinner from somewhere anyway. I know a cafe close by, I can just go there and eat while I wait for the train.”
“Oh, you mean that cute one with the red sign?” Aiya asked, her mood perking up.
“Yeah, you know it?” Kento asked.
“I was actually just heading there myself!” Aiya said. “Let me treat you to something sweet. It’s the least I can do for making you miss your train.”
“Sounds good,” Kento said. Usually, he wouldn’t have agreed to something like this, but he had just wished for something to come across his path. He wasn’t about to write this off as a coincidence. “I’m Kento, by the way. Kento Shifutu.”
“Aiya Hisakawa,” Aiya said. “Nice to meet you, Kento!”
“Nice to meet you too, Aiya,” Kento said. “Shall we get going?”
Aiya nodded, and they began walking to the cafe. It was very close to the station, so the walk was short.
“What are you doing out at this time of the night?” Aiya asked. Something about this man grabbed her attention, and she wanted to know more about him.
“I was working late,” Kento said. “Deadlines on the horizon, you know?”
“I used to,” Aiya said. “I’m actually between jobs at the moment.”
“And here I thought we were kindred spirits,” Kento said, a notable amount of disappointment in his voice. “If you weren’t working late, why are you out so late?”
“I just came from a date,” Aiya said, frowning slightly at the memory. Kento tried to hide his laughter.
“From the look on your face, I’m guessing it didn’t go too well?” Kento asked.
“Not at all,” Aiya said. “He was nice enough in the looks department, but he was a total tool.”
“Tool? Are you a teenager or something?” Kento asked. “I don’t think I’ve heard someone call someone else a tool in like a decade.” Aiya gently hit Kento on the arm.
“Don’t be mean,” she said. “So now you know about my dating life. What about you. Is there a Mrs. Shifutu?”
“Yeah,” Kento said. “She’s in a metal box under my desk.”
“So office drone or serial killer, got it,” Aiya said, laughing. “You don’t seem very tired. Do you work late often?”
“More often than not,” Kento admitted. “But a person has to work hard, you know? Not like there’s anything else to do.”
“Of course there is,” Aiya said. “Going out with friends, dating, just doing stupid stuff. There’s a lot.”
“I go drinking with my friend every now and again,” Kento said.
“You make it sound like you only have one friend, Kento,” Aiya said, her tone on the verge of pity.
“I do,” Kento said. “Great guy, too.”
“That’s just too sad,” Aiya said. “I’ll introduce you to some of my friends.”
“Please don’t,” Kento said. “I don’t have time for friends.”
“You’re being mean again,” Aiya said, hitting him in the arm again. They both shared a laugh. The night continued in good spirits, and they were so lost in conversation that they almost missed the last train.
Aiya was ecstatic. On top of having a genuinely fun night with a guy the previous night, he offered to introduce her to his boss. He’d given her an address one train-stop away. She’d been having a lot of trouble finding a job again, and her financial situation was beginning to look dire. Now she had a chance, though. As long as she didn’t mess up the job interview, she would be fine.
Aiya spent the trip there psyching herself up, building up her nerves as best she could. Before she knew it she was in the building, riding the elevator. Bad memories from her previous office job flooded into her mind, but she pushed them down. She wasn’t going to let herself run away from this. She held her breath as the elevator doors slid open, readying herself for the cacophony of an office.
What met her was near-dead silence. She stepped out of the doors and looked around, confused. She was sure she had the right place. Her eyes fell on a semi-familiar-looking head of hair in the corner. She waved to get his attention, and Kento waved back. He quickly got to his feet and came to greet her.
“Aiya, good morning,” he said. “Thank you for coming.”
“Thanks for inviting me,” Aiya said. “I really needed this.”
“Kentoooooooo!” A shrill voice shouted. Aiya peered past Kento’s shoulder to see a short woman charging up to him, an impossibly bright smile on her face. The girl crashed into Kento, who frowned and pinched the bridge of his nose.
“Yes, Ms. Sugiyama?” Kento asked.
“Is this your girlfriend?” the woman identified as Ms. Sugiyama asked. Aiya’s face almost immediately turned red.
“No, this is the woman I told you about,” Kento said. “Aiya, this is my boss, Ms. Sugiyama. Ms. Sugiyama, this is Aiya Hisakawa.”
“Call me Rin!” Rin said. “It’s nice to meet you. As for you, Kento. Why do you call her by her first name, but not me?”
“Because I met her outside of work, and it would be weird to start calling her Ms. Hisakawa now,” Kento said. Rin pouted and crossed her arms.
“Fine, be like that,” she said. “I’ll leave Aiya’s training up to you. Aiya, come with me so we can sort out your payroll and all that.”
“Alright,” Aiya said. She turned to Kento. “I take it this is your one friend?”
“She’s not a friend,” Kento said. “She’s a pain in the rear if anything.”
Aiya started working with Kento and Rin that very same day. She proved to be a very capable worker, and Kento was very impressed with her performance, and Aiya was almost blown away by Kento’s work ethic. He was like a man possessed once he got busy. It also made her feel slightly worried about him. He didn’t seem to have anything else going on in his life aside from his work.
A few days later Kento arrived at the office with a black eye. Despite both her and Rin grilling him about it, he refused to crack. Aiya received an invitation to go out with her friend Hina, which she accepted. While she was at it, she invited Rin as well. She seemed like she could use a girl’s night. While out, Kento and his friend Abe walked into the same place they were. Kento and Abe gladly joined their table, and they spent a very pleasant evening together. Aiya got a glimpse into Kento’s personality when he finally cracked and told them how he got his black eye. He was a really good guy if a bit strange. Now she just had to do something about his work obsession.
Kento couldn’t believe the misfortune. He had gotten in a huge fight with Rin, and now she wasn’t speaking to him. He felt awful about it but had no idea how to make amends. Aiya didn’t want to leave him alone in the office after that, so she worked late with him. Now he was walking her home, and he ran into a bunch of delinquents.
Something about the kids seemed familiar. It took a second before realization dawned on him. It seemed the same happened with the ringleader, and he was outed as the White Dragon. He was forced to explain to Aiya about his regretful past actions.
Aiya was happy about what had happened. She finally understood Kento’s motivations. He worked hard because he was scared. It was admirable in a way. He wanted to make amends for a debt he had paid off long ago, but that he still allowed to haunt him. She wanted to help him in some way, but she didn’t know-how. She would figure it out eventually though.
Aiya’s day was off to a terrible start. A loan shark she’d gotten involved with had surfaced and was pressuring her for money again. In an effort to take her mind off of things she offered to help Kento shop for an apology gift for Rin. He seemed like he had some real regret over what happened. Aiya and Kento got into a huge fight as well, parting ways on less than good terms.
Aiya had stormed off, right into the face of the loan shark. He issued more threats to her, mainly threatening to use her to extort her father for money. To her surprise and relief, Kento showed up. He beat the shark to a pulp, and on top of that, he paid Aiya’s debt in full. To finish it off, he used the weight that the name of the White Dragon seemingly carried to make sure the loan shark would never come back.
Aiya hadn’t been that scared in a long time, and it meant a lot to her that Kento had been there for her. Kento walked her home, and she thanked him with a quick peck on the cheek, before bolting into her home to avoid embarrassment.
Kento apologized to Rin and gave her the bracelet he had bought for her. She seemed grateful for the apology, but couldn’t forgive him completely. Instead, she distanced herself from him, thinking that he truly didn’t care about her. She kept on thinking that, right up until she was cornered by gunmen in the office while working late and alone. She was certain she was going to be killed, but Kento appeared and saved her, holding the gunmen at bay while she ran.
Outside she met up with Abe and Aiya. They seemed worried, but luckily police were already there too. They rushed up to detain the gunmen. Even though there was a gunshot, Kento managed to get through the ordeal unscathed. It made both him and Rin realized they meant a lot more to each other than they thought, and Kento finally dropped his workplace philosophy and started treating her as a friend.
Abe had gotten into Kento’s head. A few weeks had passed since the incident with the gunmen, and now Abe wouldn’t shut up about the fact that he thought Kento had feelings for Aiya. It was something Kento constantly thought about. It was completely ridiculous, and yet whenever he thought about the kiss Aiya had planted on his cheek a goofy smile spread on his face. He was working late one night with her and Rin when he was finally forced to admit it to himself. Aiya had seemingly done the same because the moment they were alone they nearly tripped over each other trying to ask the other out.
On their date, they went to the festival that was held in town. They shared a very nice evening together, punctuated by their first kiss beneath the fireworks.
While Kento and Aiya couldn’t be happier, beneath their noses their friend was going through a very hard time. Abe’s wife was sick, and only getting worse. It was only a matter of time before she passed on, and Abe was left alone and devastated. Kento spent the week after her death and leading up to her funeral welded to Abe’s side, making sure he was never alone or wanting for anything. It deepened an already unbreakable bond between them.
Aiya and Kento continued to grow closer and closer to each other. Kento even managed to impress Aiya’s father enough to get his blessing on their relationship. After a year of being together, Kento realized that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her. It was a lot quicker than a lot of people would have said was wise, but love is blind, as they say. On the evening of their first anniversary, he got on one knee and asked her the question.
Aiya happily accepted. In truth, she had been waiting for Kento to ask too. Their friends rejoiced with them. They seemed like a match made in heaven, and the rest of their lives could only be filled with good tidings.
After being married for three years, Kento and Aiya decided that they wanted to start a family. Kento had worked hard his whole life and was financially stable enough to support his family. Aiya wanted to leave her job and stay at home to raise her child, at least for the first year or two. After some time of trying passed, Aiya announced the happy news. She was pregnant.
Kento was unbelievably nervous. He was pacing up and down the hospital waiting room, waiting and worrying. The doctors had chased him out of the room for some reason, denying him the right to be present while his daughter was born. He was chewing through his nails, waiting for any news.
A doctor finally appeared through the doors and called his name. His nerves peaked, but his joy went up with it. It crashed all the way to the ground when he saw the doctor’s grim expression.
“Mr. Shifutu, I’m sorry,” he said. “Your daughter is alive, but during the birth, there were… complications. I’m so sorry, but your wife didn’t make it.”
Kento was dejected. He didn’t know anything could hurt as much as this. He thought after all this time the pain would subside, but it never did. The only relief he found was at the bottom of a bottle.
“Daddy! Look, don’t I look cute?” his daughter asked, storming into the room. She had cut up one of her skirts in an attempt to give it some frills.
“You’re wasting money,” Kento said, his voice cold. “Go put on some proper clothes.”
Rin and Abe frequently visited Kento and his daughter. Abe especially knew what he was going through, but he couldn’t agree with how Kento was handling it. He rejected his daughter, opting for cheap sake instead. Rin and Abe still loved him dearly, but they also noted the responsibility they had to Aiya’s memory. They took a very active role in raising the child. She grew extremely attached to them as her only source of familial kindness.
Every now and then Kento would have a day where his old self shined through. During those days it was very clear he loved his daughter, and he treated her better than most parents treat their children. Those days got scarcer as she got older though. Rin and Abe knew why. As she got older she began to resemble her mother more and more. It had to be painful for Kento to see what was essentially a younger version of his dead wife walking around in his house.
“When do you plan on moving out?” Kento asked.
“I don’t know, Dad,” his daughter replied. “I still need to save up for university. As soon as I manage that, I’ll go.”
“I’ll pay for it,” Kento said. “I’ll pay for an apartment too, so go pack your things.”
“Why are you so desperate to get rid of me?” His daughter asked.
“Because looking at you hurts!” Kento said, tears streaming down his face. He was drunk again. “Don’t you get it? You look just like her!”
“I don’t know, Dad,” she shot back. “I never met Mom.”
“We would have been happy now if you just hadn’t been born,” he said. She took a few steps back.
“Dad, how could you say that?” she asked, trying to hold back her own tears. Her dad had his bad days, but he always showed her at least passive kindness. He’d never told her something like that.
“Because it’s true!” Kento yelled. “If you had just never been born I would still have Aiya with me today. It’s your fault, Mirai.”
“Well maybe if you two hadn’t gotten together in the first place you’d be even happier!” Mirai screamed. She ran out of the house before Kento could stop her. It took some time for her to stop crying and running. She got a cab and asked it to take her anywhere. After a few minutes, she found herself in the middle of the city. She paid the cab driver and got out. It was late, and no one was around. She didn’t want to go home. She went into an alley and collapsed against a wall, crying even harder.
Some time passed, and she realized she had fallen asleep. She quickly got to her feet and checked herself over. When she confirmed she was ok she walked out of the alley. She looked around in confusion. She could tell she was in the same place she had been earlier, and yet everything looked… different. She checked her phone. It still worked, but the date was all wrong.
Mirai walked into a nearby convenience store and asked the clerk where she was. She was taken aback when he completely ignored her. She tried touching him but found he didn’t react at all. She tried the patrons of the store, but no one registered her presence. Her head spun as she tried to make sense of what was going on. She grabbed a newspaper, and found the date on it was wrong too. It was twenty-three years in the past.
Mirai walked outside. She felt strange. Was this some kind of dream? She began walking to the nearby station, something luring her there. Once she got there she saw a sight she truly didn’t expect. Someone who looked remarkably similar to her was boarding the train. Mirai ran to make sure, only barely making it onto the train. Sure enough, she was right. It was a person she was very familiar with. She had seen countless pictures, after all. This was her first time seeing the living thing, though. She quickly pulled out her phone. She noticed the date was marked on her calendar.
She had marked all the dates that Uncle Abe and Aunt Rin told her were important. Today was supposed to be the day that her parents met. She remembered what she said earlier. If this was reality, then maybe she could stop her parents from meeting. She walked up to the familiar woman.
You should go straight home
“Shouldn’t you be making kissy-faces with your boyfriend?” Aiya asked. Mirai was delighted that she could be seen. She couldn’t stop the smile from coming to her face. She was finally meeting her mother.
“I don’t have one,” she said. Some laughing behind her seemed to distract Aiya. Mirai knew she had to take this chance to move. She took a step, intent on getting closer to the doors to stop her father. To her surprise, the next step she took was onto the platform. She didn’t know how, but she had just teleported to her father’s side. She could feel she was being drawn to her parents somehow. Maybe that gave her some kind of sway over the world.
You shouldn’t get on this train
“Why shouldn’t I?” Kento asked. Mirai was taken slightly aback. Her dad seemed… normal. Nothing like the alcoholic borderline-abusive man she knew in the future.
“Just trust me!” Mirai said, a smile creeping onto her face again. This reminded her of her childhood before her father spiraled too far into depression.
“Well, there is another one coming in an hour, and I do want to get some food,” Kento said, the last thing Mirai remembered before darkness enveloped her.
Mirai found herself in front of an office building. She recognized it as the place Aunt Rin and Uncle Abe worked at, but it looked a lot more… old-fashioned than she remembered. This confirmed that she was still in the past. She didn’t want to go inside, so she went to a nearby coffee shop instead. She toiled there for most of the day, right up until the time she knew people were supposed to get off work. She grabbed herself a takeout cup of coffee and walked back to the office. She was technically stealing, but no one could see her, so how bad could it be?
Once back at the office, she waited. She saw the elevator doors open, and her mother step out. She was sure she remembered that her dad got her mom this job after they met, but fate was a fickle thing. She would have to get deeper into their lives to keep them apart. Mirai hid in the shadows, and as Aiya left she walked out, purposefully walking into her and spilling the coffee.
Mirai was worried. More and more people had begun seeing her. It seemed to be mostly people close to her parents that could see her. She theorized that the ring of people that could see and hear her would grow from her parents to their friends, and beyond. That didn’t explain how these delinquent teens that had her backed against a wall could see her.
To her relief, she was saved. Even though a part of her hated him, it was hard for a girl to not feel safe when her father showed up. Kento quickly got rid of the boys threatening her, and she discovered they were acquaintances of his from when he was in his gang phase in high school. That explained how they could see her, but it also made her worried that her parents were getting closer to each other. She had to make a plan.
Mirai was enjoying herself. She thought this much was fine. She was out shopping with her parents, something she never got to experience before. She couldn’t help but be happy and enjoy the time. She finally got to meet and learn to know her mother and saw a truly kind side of her father too. Of course, he ruined it soon after by acting like the cold-hearted man she knew he was.
Or so she thought. After pulling his stunt she found herself enveloped by darkness again, but it didn’t last long. She found herself back in that same street, with Aiya on the ground and Kento facing off against some sleazy-looking man. The event made her respect for her father grow, albeit begrudgingly.
Mirai was scared. The darkness found her again. She was certain that this was the end and not the one she wanted. She realized her crusade would end up with her own existence ending, but she thought it would happen after she put a rift between her parents. Not after her father got shot. This was never supposed to happen. Luckily she found herself in front of a hospital soon after. The doctors saved him. She was more relieved than she wanted to admit that her father was ok.
Mirai had tried constantly to put a divide between Kento and Aiya, but none of her plans worked. Kento managed to win over her grandfather despite him being one of the people who seemed to hate him the most in the future. Every rock Mirai threw into her parents’ relationship Kento batted away.
After Abe’s wife passed she realized she wouldn’t have a lot more chances. Soon they would be too close to ever tear apart. Mirai had to play the card she had been dreading to play. It would paint her father as a monster, but unfortunately, it was all she could do. She was sure he would be able to get through it, and then he would be happy.
As long as Mirai was never born, her dad would be happy, and her mom would be alive. All she had to do was tell an awful lie.
Mirai came out of the darkness. She never expected to appear in the world again, but here she was, standing in front of a scared Aiya, a confused Rin, and a crazed Kento. She read the situation quickly and tried to smooth things over while supporting her lie, but her silver tongue died when Kento produced a large knife.
“Put it down,” Mirai said, fear in her eyes. She never accounted for the fact that her dad might have a psychotic break and attempt to harm someone. “Whatever you’re planning, it’ll only make things worse.”
Mirai tried to predict the situation. He was most angry at her, so she was probably his target. When he forced Aiya to look at her she was sure that confirmed it. If he attacked her he would surely go to jail, and that would split him and Aiya up for good. Mirai braced herself for the attack.
Kento thrust the knife with great force, letting out a grunt of effort. He collapsed to his knees. Looking down, he seemingly admired his handiwork. The handle of the knife stuck from his abdomen.
Mirai couldn’t believe what she saw. Of everything that he could have done, this was the last thing she expected. If she thought about it she would realize he was testing her. If she listened to what he just said instead of trying to think of a way to spin the situation in her favor she would know what was going on. She didn’t do any of that, though.
Instead, she rushed forward, a hole in her heart opening at the thought of her father dying in front of her. She only made it a few steps before the darkness enveloped her once again, only getting out two short, pleading words that were nearly choked out of her.